Monday, October 26, 2009

Funny and Seriously Troubling

I recently came across a website that I am now completely obsessed with. The website is called Ask an Astrobiologist and is a NASA page. At first glance the website doesn't seem like anything unusual until you start clicking through the questions that he receives. As questions are submitted via the internet, the questions are often baffling. The Astrobiologist answering them, David Morrison, does not suffer fools gladly, as the expression goes. He takes a very firm hand with the lunacy that pervades the internet and implores people to develop critical thinking and critical researching skills. With all the disaster movies that have been coming out, or will be coming out, he gets a lot of crazy questions asking if those things are true, or demanding to know why NASA is hiding this stuff from them. There are also heart-breaking questions from people clearly confused by the massive amount of misinformation they find online. I wish more people would speak this clearly with the American people on a whole host of issues. The lack of understanding of many of the questioners points to deeper failures in the education system. Some of my favorite excerpts from the site:

I saw an episode of "The Universe," on the history channel, that showed NASA landing a probe on the asteroid Eris, or Eros. A week later another episode explained that Eris, or Eros, was a dwarf planet in the Kiper Belt. (1) If Eris is a dwarf planet out past Pluto then how could NASA land a probe on it? (2) Is Eris a dwarf planet or an asteroid that NASA put a probe on?

You are confusing Eros (a near Earth asteroid) with Eris (the largest known dwarf planet). Eros and Eris are different just as Washington is not Wilmington, and Paris is not Paros, and in planetary science Titan is not Triton. Different words mean different things. If you do not make this distinction, you will misunderstand many things you read and see on TV. For more information on either Eris or Eros, try Wikipedia.

People are saying that a solar flare is going to hit the Earth in 2012 and "toast" us alive. What is this site all about? I even saw their commercial on tv! I just want to know the truth and be prepare if something is really going to happened. AND I recently saw a commercial on Discovery's History Channel where a lottery entry has begun to "save yourself" from the 2012 doomsday event; however, it was not specified what this event may be or how these winners would be saved. AND I found this website with very believable information. Is it really true ? AND I saw this commercial on tv about the institute for humanity continuity and I am very scared.

About dozen people have written to me this week about ads for the Institute for Human Continuity. This is just part of the publicity for the science fiction film “2012” to be released in November. Let me be clear: (1) Nothing bad is predicted to happen in 2012. The 2012 doomsday is a hoax. (2) There is no Institute for Human Continuity. It is a fake website created to generate interest in the film. (3) Neither the film nor this website are based on science. This is fiction. (4) The creation of a fake website to publicize a film is called “viral marketing” by a analogy with a computer virus (look it up in Wikipedia). (5) It is important to learn to distinguish fiction from fact, and Hollywood film plots from reality. Here is what I wrote in this subject a few months ago in my “Twenty Questions” about 2012: The pseudoscientific claims about Nibiru and a doomsday in 2012, together with distrust of the government, are being amplified by publicity for the new film from Columbia Pictures titled “2012”, to be released in November 2009. The film publicity includes creation of a faux scientific website ( for “The Institute for Human Continuity”, which is entirely fictitious. According to this website, the IHC is dedicated to scientific research and public preparedness. Its mission is the survival of mankind. The website explains that the Institute was founded 1978 by international leaders of government, business, and science. They say that in 2004, IHC scientists confirmed with 94% certainty that the world would be destroyed in 2012. This website encourages people to register for a lottery to select those who will be saved; a colleague submitted the name of her cat, which was accepted. I learned from Wikipedia that creating this sort of fake website is a new advertising technique called “Viral Marketing”, by analogy with computer viruses.

I'm really worried about supernovas and hypernovas. I'm specially worried about stars called Betelgeuse, Eta Carinae, Antares and WR 104, as there is a lot of conroversial information on the internet about these stars. I Know pretty well the situation about WR 104, as you have answered it also, but the rest of the stars i mentioned are still a mystery. This is really worrying me as i can't sleep when I worry about these things (yes I'm a worryer and a bit of a cosmophobic), so it would be very helpful if you could give me the information I need so I could go on with my life.

I can think of no reason why any of the stars you mention should be considered threats. I don’t know what specific information will calm your fears, but these are just ordinary stars going about their business like the other 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy...If you are finding many websites that claim controversy about these four stars, my advice is to stop using such misleading sources of information. The Internet is filled with misinformation and disinformation, most of which should simply be ignored. One of the most valuable aspects of Wikipedia is that it is up to date and reflects the knowledge of real scientists. If anyone thinks they are falling for the crazy ideas of cosmophobia or are having trouble sleeping because of fear of astronomy, please check out Wikipedia or other reputable sources (such as Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazines) and forget the pseudoscience.

Why isn't there more media coverage of the 2012 doomsday? Explain to me what I am seeing in the video for HR 8791. Why did you guys finally decide to coordinate with other countries for the global space station or be in such a rush to find a planet that will support life. The biggest news today is the Health Care Reform but if you look at the words at the bottom on CNN they read that NASA has discovered a planet.

There is not more media coverage of the 2012 doomsday because the media realize it is a hoax. Fortunately most of the media prefer to write about real things, and they understand that 2012 is an Internet and UTube cult phenomenon without the slightest bit of evidence to support it. The only HR 8791 I know of is a Congressional Bill (HR stands for House Resolution) that has been the subject of a spoof by the satirical humor publication Onion. I hope you are not taking this spoof seriously. This sort of humor works only if readers can recognize the spoof...

Usually the astrologers use our planets to explain the present, past and the future life of we humans. Is there really any link between the planet alignment and its movement with the human's life or a person's zodiac sign?

No, there is no link — astrology is not science, or prediction, but an ancient religion that is unrelated to modern science...

There are certain people who believe that global warming may in fact be true, but at our current rate it is too late to do anything about it.... My question to you is, what do you think is the better solution for global warming. Invest billions into trying to find solutions to fix the problem. Or invest the billions of dollars of research into learning to live with global warming?I am surprised that you refer to “people who think global warming may be true”.

Global warming is about as sure as anything in science that deals with a complex system like Earth climate. We know the rapid increase in greenhouse gases is producing a rate of heating that overwhelms any of the much slower “natural” processes that influence global climate...

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